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Israel started administering booster jabs to its population in the summer. Alamy Stock Photo
fourth dose

Israel offers Covid-19 vaccine fourth dose to people over 60 and healthcare workers

“The world will follow in our footsteps,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

PRIME MINISTER NAFTALI Bennett said Israelis over the age of 60 and medical teams will be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccination, following the recommendation of an expert panel.

The decision came as the state was struggling to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, imposing travel and other restrictions while avoiding a domestic lockdown.

“I gave an order to prepare immediately for a fourth vaccination,” Bennett said on Twitter, with a spokesperson saying Israel would be the world’s first country to administer the fourth shot.

“The world will follow in our footsteps.”

Earlier, Bennett had called the country’s Pandemic Expert Committee’s recommendation to administer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to Israelis over 60 and medical teams “wonderful news”.

“(It) will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world,” he said.

“The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well,” he said in remarks relayed by his office, calling on those who meet the criteria to “Go and get vaccinated.”

A statement from the health ministry noted that immunodeficient people will also be eligible for the fourth shot, which can be administered to them, the elderly and the medical teams at least four months after the third shot.

Bennett’s remarks came following a meeting of the country’s ministerial coronavirus cabinet which convened amid growing concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.

The cabinet had issued limitations on eating in shopping malls and instructed that children in communities with high morbidity and low vaccination rates would learn from home.

Yesterday, lawmakers banned citizens and residents from US travel, adding it to a list of more than 50 countries declared off-limits in an effort to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant.

A parliamentary committee voted to approve a health ministry recommendation putting the Ireland on Israel’s “red list,” along with the United States, Italy, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey, committee spokeswoman Ronit Gal said in a statement.

The ban comes into effect today and will remain in force for at least a week, Gal added.

The United Kingdom, France and Spain were among countries already on the red list, as well as the United Arab Emirates and much of Africa.

Adding the US to the red list was a significant move for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis hold US citizenship.

The designation means that Israeli passport holders and residents cannot fly to the US without permission from an exemptions committee.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant accounted for 73.2% of new cases in the US over the week that ended Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The latest Israeli restrictions were approved as the health ministry reported that as of Tuesday there were 1,148 confirmed or “highly likely” Omicron cases in the country.

More than half the cases were among vaccinated people.

Israel blocked nearly all foreign visitors last month after Omicron was detected in South Africa, just weeks after permitting tourists to enter for the first time since the pandemic began.

More than 4.1 million Israelis have received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine in the country of roughly 9.3 million people.

But inoculation rates remain low among teens and young children. Fewer than one percent of children aged five to 11 have received a single coronavirus jab.

Europe’s Omicron surge

The World Health Organization’s leading official in Europe has urged governments to prepare for a “significant surge” in coronavirus cases across the continent due to the Omicron variant, which is already dominant in several countries.

“We can see another storm coming,” WHO Europe regional director Dr Hans Kluge said at a press conference in Vienna.

“Within weeks, Omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink.”

Omicron has been detected in at least 38 of the WHO European region’s 53 members, Dr Kluge added, noting that it is already the dominant variant in the UK, Denmark and Portugal.

Last week, 27,000 people died from coronavirus in the region and an additional 2.6 million cases were reported.

Although these cases include all variants, he noted this figure is 40% higher than during the same period last year.

“The sheer volume of new Covid-19 infections could lead to more hospitalisations and widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” he said.

Although much remains unknown about Omicron, Dr Kluge said it appears to be more infectious than previous variants, leading to “previously unseen transmission rates” in countries with a significant number of Omicron cases.

© – AFP, 2021 with reporting from Press Association

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